Bringing the Grandchildren Home: Elders in Federal Correctional Facilities

A closer look at the Elders and the work they do with Indigenous offenders.


Bringing the Grandchildren Home: Elders in Federal Correctional Facilities

Tom McCallum: The stories that we tell are stories that have been passed onto us from our ancestors.

If we sit in a circle, the story will come, the one that I'm supposed to tell these guys.

Sarah Anala: The first time that they see me, the expression of relief on their face and the tenseness of their bodies relaxes and they're so grateful to see somebody from home.

Gilbert Sanipaa: Sometimes I would ask the guys, "What am I to you guys, who am I to you?" You are a father, you tell us things, you talk to us and you take the time to listen to us. He said, "This hasn't been happening in our lives when we're at home."

Lisa Allgaier: Elders are at the heart of everything we do in terms of providing spiritual and cultural services. They really are the core, and actually without elders, we wouldn't be able to provide anything for Aboriginal offenders that would have cultural or spiritual meaning to them.

Dakota: Having an elder there for that support is actually a pivotal point in people's lives who are trying to change their ways. If I had no elder to help me and to guide me and say "Listen, this is not how your people live", I think I would still be in maximum security, still using drugs, still doing all the things I shouldn't be doing now because they play such a significant role to put us back on our feet, but to allow us to pick ourselves up at the same time.

Victoria Whelan: A lot of people are really lost, well the offenders and that. A lot of them have that guilt and shame and they've been growing up with that anyhow.

Bonnie Spencer: They're in trauma mode and because of the trauma they've experienced, they just projected that outwards.

George Harris: One of the things that really astounds me is how disconnected our inmates are to their family, to the community, to the nation, to the culture, to language, sacred ceremonies and traditional way of life.

Fred Campiou: We were not allowed to practise our ceremonies. It was outlawed in legislation in Canada. They demonized our elders. They went after our spiritual leaders. Here we are today and we're probably the only ones who can help repair that.

Mike Couchie: By going in Sweat Lodge or being involved in ceremony in here, it gives them a glimpse of something that talks about their history, talks about who they are and their connection to this life.

Dale Sylliboy: I'm mostly working with grandchildren in the institutions. They don't know why they are the way that they are, or how they became that way. It's just passed on, everybody thought it was normal.

Sarah: Those kinds of things that happened to my grandparents, I think they had the anger of what happened to them and they passed it along to their children and to their grandchildren. At some point, they have to stop it. For me, I want to stop it in my generation, before I have my children. I want to be able to stop the violence in my family.

Marjorie Wright: I tell them that they can do it, that it is possible because I've seen it. Ive watched people do it and I've done it myself.

Title: There are currently over 100 elders working in federal correctional facilities throughout Canada.

Through their efforts, Inuit, Métis and First Nations offenders are being released back into their communities, safely and securely.